What Went Right: Postseason Pitching

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.

(Elsa/Getty)

As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.

CC Sabathia
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.

Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.

Andy Pettitte
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.

(Elsa/Getty)

Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.

Phil Hughes
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.

The Bullpen
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.

What Went Wrong: Postseason Offense

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

There is still baseball being played but the Yankees are not involved in any of it. They were bounced from the postseason in an embarrassing four-game sweep by the Tigers in the ALCS last week, a very one-sided series that featured little offense by New York. They scored six runs in the four games and never once held a lead, which is unthinkable for an offense that led the AL in homers (245), ISO (.188), OBP (.337), SLG (.453), OPS (.790), wOBA (.342), and wRC+ (113). Everything that could have gone wrong offensively did.

All told, the Yankees hit just .188/.254/.303 in their nine postseason games, the lowest batting average in history by a team who played at least seven playoff games. It wasn’t just the ALCS either, they had a hard time scoring in the ALDS even though they won the series. The so-called Bombers scored just 22 runs in the nine games, and nine of those runs came in two innings — five in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One and four in the ninth inning of ALCS Game One. After scoring those four runs off Jose Valverde in Game One last Saturday, the Yankees scored just two runs on ten hits in the final 30.1 innings of their season.

Offensive ineptitude of this caliber requires a total team effort. Ichiro Suzuki was a singles machine in the postseason and Derek Jeter did is part before going down with a fractured ankle in ALCS Game One, plus Raul Ibanez hit enough jaw-droppingly clutch homers to avoid any criticism. The rest of the lineup? Not so much.

Robinson Cano
Of all the offensive failure, Cano’s miserable postseason was by far the most surprising. He was once again the team’s best hitter during the year and he finished the regular season on an insane hot streak (24-for-39, .615), but he was invisible in the playoffs. Cano doubled in two runs in that big ninth inning off Jim Johnson in ALDS Game One and he doubled in a run in the first inning of ALDS Game Two, and that was pretty much it. He fell into a hideous 0-for-29 slide that featured weak grounder after weak grounder, and it wasn’t until the ninth inning of ALCS Game Three that he got off the schneid with a line drive single to left.

Robbie reached base four times in 41 postseason plate appearances, adding an intentional walk to those two ALDS doubles and ALCS single. His .098 OBP is the lowest in playoff history (min. 35 PA) while his .075 AVG is the fourth lowest. Cano has had an up-and-down playoff career but this kind of ineffectiveness was unthinkable. He was, by far, the biggest drain on the team’s offense. There’s no doubt about it.

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

Alex Rodriguez & Eric Chavez
I’m going to lump these two together because they shared third base duties during the postseason. A-Rod struggled after coming off the DL in September and it carried over into the postseason, as he went 1-for 12 with seven strikeouts in the first three games of the ALDS. Things got so bad that Joe Girardi famously lifted Alex for a pinch-hitter in ALDS Game Three, leading to two of those memorable Ibanez homers (first the game-tying shot, then the game-winner in extra innings).

A-Rod did not start the decisive Game Five of the ALDS and did not start the final two games of the ALCS. He started six of nine playoff games but did not finish three, instead being lifted for pinch-hitters against right-handed pitchers late and for good reason — Alex went 0-for-18 with a dozen strikeouts against same-side hitters in the postseason. All told, he had three singles and two walks against those 12 strikeouts in 27 playoff appearances.

The decision to lift A-Rod for pinch-hitters or outright bench him against righties was completely justifiable due to his performance, but Chavez didn’t exactly force the issue. He failed to reach base in 17 playoff plate appearances, striking out nine times. All told, the Yankees received an .086/.135/.086 batting line out of their third basemen in 37 postseason plate appearances. A-Rod drew the boos and got all the media attention,  but he wasn’t even the worst performer at his own position.

Nick Swisher
Unfortunately poor postseasons became a routine during Swisher’s stint in New York, a stint that will almost surely end after four years this winter. He opened these playoffs with a very productive ALDS Game One, drawing two walks to go along with a single and a sacrifice fly. After that, he went 2-for-28 (.071) with a walk and nine strikeouts the rest of the way. One of those hits was a run-scoring double in ALCS Game Four, which had zero impact in the grand scheme of things. Swisher hit .167/.235/.233 in the team’s nine playoff games and will likely leave the Yankees with a .162/.252/.308 batting line in 148 postseason plate appearances with the club.

Curtis Granderson
Granderson came into the year as a postseason monster, with a .267/.375/.535 overall playoff batting line and a .313/.459/.583 playoff line with the Yankees. He was instead a non-factor this year, going just 3-for-30 (.100) with one homer and three walks (one intentional) in the nine postseason games. Two of those hits came in consecutive at-bats in ALDS Game Five. Like Swisher, he was benched for one ALCS game in favor of Brett Gardner. Curtis struck out an insane 16 times in 33 playoff plate appearances, so basically half the time. It’s impossible to be productive when you don’t put the ball in play, and Granderson’s strikeout issues became extreme in October.

Russell Martin
Unlike the other guys in the post, Martin at least had a signature moment this postseason. He hit the go-ahead homer off Johnson in the ninth inning of ALDS Game One, a hugely clutch shot that gets forgotten because the Yankees went on score another four runs in the inning to turn the game into a laugher. It was a big homer, don’t forget it. That said, Martin went just 5-for-31 (.161) with the homer, a double, and three walks in the postseason (.235 OBP). He reached base twice in the ALCS and three times in the team’s final six playoff games. Martin was up and down all season (mostly down), and outside of the homer he was contributed little to a postseason offense that needed substantially more from these six players.

Swept: Tigers bounce Yankees from ALCS in four games

After all the homers, all the injuries, all the RISPFAIL, all the Raul Ibanez game-saving dingers, all 98 wins and 171 games … the 2012 season is over for the Yankees. The Tigers swept them out of the ALCS in four games, capping off the series with a lopsided 8-1 win on Thursday.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

The Pitching Bubble Bursts

The lineup did next to nothing offensively during the entire postseason, but it wasn’t until Game Four against Detroit that the pitching staff started to crumble. CC Sabathia carried the Yankees to the ALCS with an utterly dominant showing against the Orioles in the ALDS, but he was unable to repeat that kind of success against the Tigers in Game Four. His defense (more on that in a second) betrayed him early and the long ball bit him late, and the end result was six runs (five earned) on eleven hits (!) and two walks in just 3.2 innings. Sabathia threw 93 mostly ugly pitches.

A five-pitcher parade of relievers allowed two tack-on runs — both solo homers, one by Austin Jackson (off Derek Lowe) and one by Jhonny Peralta (off David Robertson) — in 4.1 innings. The Yankees struck out just four of 44 hitters in Game Four and just seven of 80 hitters in the final two games of the series. Pitching was not the reason the Yankees were eliminated in the ALCS, though it certainly didn’t help the cause in Game Four.

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

LMAOffense

The Yankees didn’t hit a lick all postseason and that continued on Thursday, as they were two-hit by Max Scherzer and three relievers. Eduardo Nunez tripled to left-center to leadoff the sixth, breaking up the no-hitter, and two batters later Nick Swisher doubled to right-center to plate the team’s only run of the game. Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Teixeira, and Jayson Nix all drew walks and Nunez reached on an error as well. That’s it, six total baserunners. The final nine Yankees of the season made outs.

All told, New York hit a whopping .177 in the ALCS, the second lowest team batting average in a best-of-seven series in baseball history. They hit .188 in the postseason overall, the second worst mark in franchise history behind the 1963 squad (.171 in only four games). Robinson Cano had one hit in the series and finished the ALCS with a .098 OBP, the lowest by any player in playoff history (min. 35 PA). His .075 average was the fourth lowest in history. That’s hard to believe. Swisher didn’t hit, Curtis Granderson didn’t hit, Alex Rodriguez didn’t hit, Russell Martin didn’t hit, no one outside of Ibanez, Ichiro, and Nunez hit. A-Rod, by the way, went 0-for-2 off the bench and flew out with two men on-base against lefty Drew Smyly to end the sixth.

Derpfense

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The scoreboard says the Yankees only committed two errors as a team, but they have the hometown scorer to thank for that. Eric Chavez misplayed a routine ground ball in the first (he froze instead of charged), allowing Omar Infante to beat it out and eventually come around to score. That’s a play that has to be made by a big league third baseman. Teixeira whiffed on not one, but two ground balls in the third inning, leading to another run. The first whiff was ruled a hit for Prince Fielder, which was a pretty ridiculous scoring decision. Teixeira had the ball in the pocket of his glove before flubbing it. He made just one error in the regular season and what should have been two in the third inning of this game.

Anyway, Nunez made two funny plays in the first five innings. First he made play on a ground ball ranging to his left, but the throw to first was a lawn dart right into the ground and the runner was safe. I don’t think he would have gotten him anyway, but the throw was wretched. Secondly, he mistimed a jump on a little line drive/fly ball (fliner) and had the ball clank off of his glove and drop for a hit. Neither play was routine, but still. Not pretty.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

Leftovers

Joe Girardi used all of his position players, though the array of pinch-hitters didn’t help at all. The Yankees had ten total hits and two runs in the final 30.1 innings of the series following Ibanez’s game-tying homer in the ninth inning of Game One. That’s just unfathomable. Brett Gardner went 0-for-3 in Game Four and also slid head first into first base in the third inning. He missed the entire season with an elbow injury and still dove head first into first. Gritty or stupid? Both?

Joba Chamberlain allowed two hits (one of which I thought was catchable, but whatever) but escaped the seventh inning when he stuck out his back leg and make a kick save on Gerald Laird’s ground out. It was a nice but totally lucky play, and I’m surprised the ball didn’t shatter his ankle. Joba has that kind of luck, you know? He, Cody Eppley, and Clay Rapada were more effective that Lowe and Robertson. Rafael Soriano threw exactly one inning in the series.

I give Girardi a hard time and he catches a lot of grief in general, it comes with being the Yankees manager, but I commend him for the job he did while dealing with the loss of his father. I’ve been there and it’s a very tough thing. I can’t imagine dealing with it in the middle of the postseason. Joe’s definitely a trooper.

Box Score & WPA Graph

MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. The Tigers are the first team to ever beat the Yankees in three straight postseason series (2006, 2011, 2012), which sucks. The Yankees were swept for the first time since 1980, a span of 36 playoff series. That’s the longest such streak in history. The Yankees also didn’t hold a lead at any point in the series, the first time they’ve done that since the 1963 World Series. I suppose the good news is that New York has been swept four times before (1922, 1963, 1976, 1980), and each time they rebounded to make the World Series the next year.


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Well, I guess it’s time for the offseason now. Spring Training is 120 days away, give or take, so between now and then we’ll spend our team reviewing the season that was, breaking down potential roster moves, all sorts of stuff. It was a good year with a crappy ending. Thanks for sticking around.

ALCS Game Four Thread: Yankees @ Tigers

I was really hoping the Yankees would be around long enough to play today, but not under these circumstances. Rather than play Game Five of the ALCS this afternoon, the Yankees and Tigers will instead play Game Four following last night’s rain out. New York is still down three games to none in the best-of-seven series, a scary but not completely insurmountable deficit. Stranger things have happened.

Since the rain out pushes the series back and day will not allow the Yankees to use CC Sabathia on three days’ rest in a potential Game Seven, I expect Joe Girardi to really ride his ace’s left arm hard today. I’m talking 120+ pitches if need be, especially if the game is close and he wants to avoid the middle relievers before handing the ball off to David Robertson and Rafael Soriano. Of course none of that will matter if the position players don’t start hitting. Here are your starting lineups, the same ones that were going to be used last night…

New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez

LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)

Detroit Tigers
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
RF Avisail Garcia
C  Gerald Laird

RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74)

It was raining earlier this morning in Detroit, but the weather has cleared up and there should be no problem getting this afternoon’s game in. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 4pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Ticket Update: If you’re optimistic and want to catch a future game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some last minute deals.

Rained out: ALCS Game Four postponed

(Leon Halip/Getty)

The miracle comeback will have to wait another day. Game Four of the ALCS was postponed due to rain on Wednesday night, as MLB wanted to “preserve the integrity of a nine-inning game.” The Yankees and Tigers will instead resume the series at 4pm ET on Thursday, though it should be noted that the forecast calls for a ton of rain that day as well. I guess they’ll wait that one out as long as possible.

As far as the Yankees are concerned, the biggest impact of the rain out is that CC Sabathia will not be able to start a potential Game Seven on three days’ rest. He would have to go on two days’ rest a la Derek Lowe in 2004, which Brian Cashman already confirmed they would not allow Sabathia to do. Despite finishing with the best overall record in the league this year, the Yankees really got the shaft with the schedule. This stinks. Oh well, at least CC will be lined up to start Game One of the World Series.

I assume that if the Yankees actually win Game Four, Game Five would be played Friday night. Andy Pettitte has already been announced as the scheduled starter for that game. Phil Hughes may or may not be able to start a potential Game Seven given his stiff back, which could mean David Phelps gets the ball or Ivan Nova will be added to the roster. That’s quite a ways off right now though. The Tigers lead the best-of-seven series three games to none.

ALCS Game Four Thread: Yankees @ Tigers

Well, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan so far. The pitching staff owns a 2.25 ERA in eight playoff game,s but the Yankees only have three wins because they’ve just stopped hitting. Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson … you name it and they’ve stopped hitting. If it wasn’t for the heroics of Raul Ibanez, this team would have been dead in the water a week ago.

I don’t expect the Yankees to mount a historic comeback from a three games to none deficit in the ALCS, but I’m very open to being surprised. I just hope they avoid a sweep tonight and make the Tigers sweat a little bit. Put a little scare into Detroit that forces them to maybe ride their pitchers a little harder than they’d like, maybe even force them to travel and play another game in Yankee Stadium. That would be sweet. Let’s just worry about this one and enjoy what will likely be CC Sabathia‘s final start of the year. Here are your starting lineups…

New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
RF Nick Swisher
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
3B Eric Chavez
Russell Martin
CF Brett Gardner
SS Eduardo Nunez

LHP CC Sabathia (15-6, 3.38)

Detroit Tigers
CF Austin Jackson
2B Omar Infante
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
RR Avisail Garcia
C  Gerald Laird

RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74)

It’s surprisingly warm in Detroit, but there is the threat of rain and we might see a weather delay. First pitch is scheduled for a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.

Ticket Update: If you’re optimistic and want to catch a future game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some last minute deals.

Update (7:55pm): The game will officially start in a delay due to incoming bad weather. No word on a start time yet.

ALCS Pitching Preview: Max Scherzer

The season is officially on the line tonight, as the Yankees are one loss away from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS. CC Sabathia will be on the mound on regular rest and that’s exactly who the Bombers want out there, but pitching hasn’t been the problem. The hitting has been, and tonight the batters will see hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer.

Scherzer, 28, went to the Tigers in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and he’s shaken off concerns about his durability by throwing at least 185 innings in each of the last three seasons. He’s got a little A.J. Burnett in him in the sense that he’s enigmatic and is more hittable than his stuff indicates he should be, but Scherzer is still pretty good. He just happens to be the fourth best starting pitcher in his own rotation.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit Str
Apr 29 DET @ NYY L,2-6 L(1-3) 4.2 7 3 3 7 4 1 0 7.77 28 119 62
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/17/2012.

Just the one ugly start back in April, that’s it. Andruw Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk off the bench in that game, that’s how long ago it was. Those seven walks are a career-high for Scherzer, who struggled big time in April before pitching very well the rest of the season. Despite only the one meeting this year, both sides are certainly familiar with each other though after the ALDS last season and various regular season matchups (four total, to be exact) since the trade that brought Scherzer to the AL.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher who acts like two two-pitch pitchers. Right-handers get the fastball and slider while lefties get the fastball and changeup. That’s pretty much it, he’s very straight forward. The fastball usually sits comfortably in the mid-90s, but Scherzer has been battling some shoulder fatigue lately and he’s been sitting the low-90s more often than not. We really don’t know how much that will help the hitters if it continues tonight, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing for the Yankees.

Performance & Results

TBF wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% FB% LD% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 351 0.258 2.52 34.8% 4.0% 37.9% 44.2% 18.0% 13.2%
vs. LHB 436 0.360 3.93 25.0% 10.6% 35.4% 39.4% 25.5% 10.2%

Unlike Justin Verlander yesterday, Scherzer has a significant platoon split. The guy eats up right-handers but has his struggled against left-handers because he doesn’t strike them out nearly as often and will walk them more frequently as well. It’s worth noting that some poor ball-in-play luck (.378 vs. 273 BABIP) plays a part in the huge split.

Regardless, it goes without saying that the Yankees have to take advantage of that, perhaps by again sitting Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez even though neither guy is really hitting. Joe Girardi could trot out a lineup with only two true right-handed hitters — Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez/Jayson Nix — and those guys could easily bat eighth and ninth. Last night’s ninth inning mini-rally was encouraging if nothing else, and today the Yankees have a chance to build on it and actually generate some offense by stacking lefties against Scherzer.